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Part 2: in Jining, the program begins

Inner Mongolia's grasslands

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Abby and Sarah in Xi'an

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Inner Mongolia's Grasslands

When you say "Inner Mongolia" to Americans, they may think of Mongolia, which is an independent country on China's northern border. It used to belong to China, but Russia conned Chiang Kaishek out of it back in the 1930s. Inner Mongolia is a province of China running across about two-thirds of the northern border.

In China, when you say "Inner Mongolia," the first reaction is to mention the grasslands. Of course, everyone knows that in these years, much of Inner Mongolia is desert, but there is still the romance of the nomadic Mongolians herding their sheep and horses on vast tracts of grass, periodically packing up their tent-homes and moving to greener pastures. This may still happen in some places, but not as much as the legends suggest. Most tourists these days go to a resort where they can have lunch in a concrete yurt and ride rented horses. Packaged tours often include spending the night, but we didn't do that. I had a marvelous opportunity to visit such a resort before I left Jining.

Windmills1.jpg (39762 bytes)Real yurts.jpg (58214 bytes)Tourist yurts.jpg (57875 bytes)Yurt lunch1.jpg (85536 bytes)

Along the way, we came upon a field of windmills generating electricity. This is an innovative use of the winds in that vast land. After a couple of hours of driving through beautiful fields, with low mountains all around, we came to Yellow Flower Park, aptly named for the several varieties of yellow wildflowers in bloom, along with flowers of many other colors. The resort consisted of a circle of concrete "fake" yurts and a few "real" ones, which I think some of the caretakers may actually live in, or at least use during the day. We rode for three hours and then had lunch in a concrete yurt. The photos barely do justice to the beautiful scenery.

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Horseback,rest,me1.jpg (73466 bytes)Horses and lake.jpg (65628 bytes)

 

(report on the trip to the grasslands and on to Hohhot , capital of Inner Mongolia )

On Wednesday morning, they went off for their first day of classes and I went off in a car with a Mr. Liu, who had been the local education bureau leader who had been with us from the beginning. He is a very nice guy. He doesn’t speak English, but we did fairly well in communicating. He had arranged for a young woman to come along as an interpreter and as a female companion. She had graduated from the local teachers college and worked in some government bureau. We took off for the countryside. I wasn't really sure what it meant to 'go to the grasslands,' but if I didn't do it, I would be endlessly explaining why to everyone in Nanjing and Shanghai as I met them throughout the beginning of school. I had sort of envisioned tall straight grass, about knee high. Apparently, though, they just mean the mountainous area and plains of at least eastern Inner Mongolia . When the Virginia group was in Yinchuan , Ningxia, we were taken into Inner Mongolia near there, which is considerably west of where we are this year. There, it was more desert than grass. This time, there was a lot of wild grass, but it looked very much like central New Mexico . I say central, because further north, in the area where my cabin is, the tall trees dominate the landscape; in this part of Inner Mongolia , at least, there are not so many trees, though there were nice stands of some kind of birch or aspen. I asked if they turned yellow in the fall and they said yes.

On the way out there, much of the landscape was covered in lush green crops. We ran across large patches of yellow rape, from which rapeseed oil is made. We have this crop near Nanjing in March or April, but the growing season is later here. They also grow corn and wheat, potatoes, and a variety of vegetables. I saw more dairy cattle in this area than I remember seeing in China . We also saw stands of a lavendar flower which we were told was flax.

But the next thing they mean when they say 'go to the grasslands' is an experience consisting of riding horses and eating lunch in a concrete yurt. The Mongolian nomads developed a housing style which was circular, with a rounded top. I guess they were originally made of sheepskin. Many people still live in real yurts, though maybe they are now made of canvas, but these concrete things are made for tourists.

When we arrived at the resort where we were to have this experience, they picked out three horses and I mounted one. The saddle was leather with a large sturdy round ring in the place of what we would call the saddle horn. Mr. Liu rode his horse by himself, but two guides led the horses Jennifer and I rode. From time to time over the three hours we were on these horses, the man led my horse, let me guide the horse, and at times he rode on the horse behind me. That was mostly toward the end. Considering that we ranged over a considerable distance, I could certainly understand that he was tired.

The scenery at the resort was marvelously beautiful. I live mostly in cities and see only concrete; it was so nice to see mountains and plains, with sheep and cattle scattered out on the landscape. The pastures were covered with wildflowers, several varieties of yellow, some low and some spiked; lavendar, and blue. We started out riding about 10 a.m. Soon, we had left the central area behind and could see little besides our own small group of five people. We followed a trail over hills across a running creek several times, and climbed low mountains. It was really great. After about an hour and a half, we ended up back at the central area. We would have been better off to have stopped there, but the guides wanted to take us to see what turned out to be a small lake. If I had realized we were only going to see a pond, I might have suggested we stop after the first lap, but we took off and what was supposed to be one hour round trip turned out to be two hours. I was not sure my legs would hold out and my body was thoroughly shaken by trotting on this horse. On the return lap, the guide got on back and got the horse up to a full gallop. All I could think of was what might happen if the horse stumbled or if I got unbalanced. I held onto the circle saddle horn with all my might and tried to remember everything I had ever read about how to sit a horse. I have ridden horses spasmodically over my many years, given that I am from Texas and have a ranching friend in New Mexico , but I have never been a horsewoman. We made it back to the central area the second time and I was glad to get off, though it had been a thoroughly exciting adventure and the scenery had been wonderful. The weather had been perfect - not not, as it had been the previous day, overcast with a drop of two of rain along the way, until the end, when it began to rain lightly. It was actually cold at that point, but I had brought a sweatshirt and an umbrella, so after we got off the horses, it was okay. We ate lunch in one of those concrete yurts. The food was pretty good. Most of it was standard Chinese fare, but we did have milk tea (don't like) and chunks of mutton (not bad). For some reason, Mr. Liu ordered a dish of sheep's blood sausage, which I did taste, but didn't like. No one else seemed to eat much, so maybe it was just for effect.

We left there and drove west to Hohhot . We saw more beautiful scenery. We drove through a number of villages, which were interesting. Chinese villages, at least here, are made up of mud brick structures. The houses are very close together, forming a sort of maze of low level buildings and courtyards, with chickens running around, stacks of sticks and straw, refuse everywhere, and everything covered in dust. How the driver knew which dirt road to take in order to get to the highway, I don't know, but he did. We arrived at the Inner Mongolia Hotel (turned out to be a 5-star hotel, probably the only such one in Inner Mongolia, but because it is Inner Mongolia, the price was cheaper than a number of 3-star hotels in Shanghai and Nanjing) about 4:45. They got me registered and then returned to Jining. I'm sure they didn't get back home until 7 or 8 p.m., but it was a wonderful day; much better than some commercial arrangement I would have made.